This morning I sat and watched Tia graze, the granddaughter of the first cow I ever milked on this farm and lost due to a tragic mistake of my own ignorant doing.
I thought about all of the hard lessons I have learned along the way in this experience of farming. I considered all of the information I have absorbed and the chasm between what I know and knowledge yet to be acquired. I thought about farmers as a group and how we promote ourselves and assert ourselves; how we think we know what we know…
We all have our own way of doing things, no matter our circumstances or occupation and the fact that those ways may differ from person to person in the same field or situation doesn’t make either wrong, even when there is a generally promoted standard, providing the end result is positive.
I have learned very firmly in farming that animals are, by and large, biological and sentient beings just like humans and not all will fit a standard. I have learned that farms are living , breathing, growing, changing things. I assert with complete confidence that if you lined up fifty farms in a row, built to identical design ,with identical soil and identical animals, from identical lines of stock , set out with identical instructions for going forward and developing, no two would be alike in two years time unless they were all run by the same person: Fence lines would be moved, irrigation patterns would be changed, feed schedules and types would be altered, breeding schedules would be off line, etc… every one of those farmers would develop his own ‘ best ‘ plan for running his farm. And each and all would be right.
We all start farming / homesteading from where we are with what we have–large or small, from scratch or with a family history of agriculture. Whether we grew up in the culture or just bought a piece of land , whether we inherited our granddaddy’s herd or stopped by an auction one day on a ride through the country and bought our first goat on impulse, we all start off new to farming the day we , ourselves, are responsible for the first time for that life, that land, that work.
It doesn’t matter how much experience we have under our belts or how much knowledge we think we have prior to that first morning of waking up and realizing it is all on us, we are not prepared for all that will happen and all that will be expected–and unexpected. It is ultimately the unexpected that will make or break a farmer or homesteader. That is where you will find your salt or your quit , as a very wise old woman I knew as a child would say.
I almost found my quit a short time back, but at the last moment, I found my salt.
Every homesteader or farmer you meet has their ‘ magic ‘ for each situation that arises. I have mine. Every single one has their ‘ go to ‘ cures and remedies they try before they call a vet in common situations. I have mine. Every last one has their tried and true methods for each and every circumstance and encounter. I have mine. I can share mine with you and happily will if you ask, but here’s the thing–what works for me and my animals on my farm may not work for you and your animal on yours. That’s the crux. That’s why every single one of us has her own. And guess what? None of them is any better than the other if they all work.
The best thing for a new comer to farming / homesteading to do is to glean as much reliable information from as many reliable sources as she can BEFORE she starts with any type of livestock. Take notes. SERIOUSLY, take notes. Figure out what makes sense to you. Ask questions of people who are doing things right. When you get some livestock, try some of the methods. See what works for YOU on YOUR farm with YOUR animal, because People, Farms, Animals–all different, even if apparently the same.
How we are raised makes us different, Our personalities make us different , Our preferences make us different , two of the same breed of cow will have different personalities, patterns, fears, weaknesses, so on and so forth.
Never let someone tell you that something MUST be a certain way if it doesn’t work for you and your animal; neither of you will be happy.
* If an animal has a special need or is so accustomed to a certain structure that it requires a diet or structure you are not comfortable or capable of providing, DO NOT try to alter it , the animal is not right for you–pass and look for your fit. Believe the farmer when she tells you what her animal requires.
I believe wholeheartedly in engaging all of my livestock mentally as well as tending to their physical needs. I believe that ” Humane Keeping ” includes the ability to engage in natural behaviors. There are those who disagree with me. There are those who believe in order to keep an animal humanely one must only provide adequate space and a clean environment with sufficient feed and fresh water–psychological needs and innate behaviors of the animal are not even a consideration. Is their animal therefore abused? I think not.
Would I do business with someone who chooses to keep animals without regard for their spiritual needs ? ( Yes, I said SPIRITUAL ) No. I would not .
Why? Because, although they are not abused, it is my opinion that they are neglected.
Some farmers will tell you a tamed production pig is a bad idea as it is prone to bite. I have not found that to be true.
Some farmers will tell you a pet heifer or spoiled cow is the worst to milk, I had one spoiled heifer that was a nightmare to train and two that were as easy as a walk in the park and never lifted a foot. I also had a well-trained dairy cow who decided she hated me right off the trailer and would wait until I had my head and hand under her and nail me every time so who’s to say? hahaha.
Some farmers will tell you to bring in a heifer cold to the stanchion and others will tell you to pre-acquaint them. I’ve done both. Both work.
Many farmers will tell you to tame your bull from an early age, others will tell you to ring his nose and train him to respect you as boss, I find the opposite of both to be true–a totally untamed, but calm and unafraid , hands – off bull is safest and most predictable. ( NO BULL IS TRUSTWORTHY)
There are pig farmers , even small ones, who swear by the need for farrowing crates to reduce piglet crushing losses. I farrow in open barns and runs and have only lost one piglet to crushing death and she was ill-thrift and probably too weak to move out of the way. I also lost a lamb to crushing death by her own mother who laid on her , so the argument falls flat with me. Like I said, we all have our own way. I don’t bash the farmer who wants to use them, although I do not think it humane to leave the mother in there long after delivery and I would not buy her pigs simply because I prefer to do business with folks of the same mindset and values.
We live in a world of hyper- connectedness: smart phones, lap tops, tablets, etc… keep us ‘ plugged in ‘ almost all the time to a myriad of social networks and resources galore. That has become a blessing and a curse. I see a lot of unnecessary , snarky ‘ my cow / goat / lamb / horse/ llama is better than hers, because ‘ posts and those make me cringe .
Why ? In the case of two farmers humanely raising healthy, fit animals, why does one way have to be “better” ?
If we are all honest as farmers about the individual animal we have to offer, it really doesn’t matter how many years more experience we have than our neighbor who also has a cow for sale–let the buyer decide based on the individual cow which is right for her/ him. Take the school yard competition out of it and start promoting each other. If you don’t have a registered cow with an outstanding pedigree and your customer is looking for one, recommend someone who does and if you have registered cows and your client is looking to spend less, recommend the reliable dairy down the road.
It sincerely makes me ill to see so-called responsible farmers bashing each other on these pages across social media just to cheat each other out of a sale or promote themselves for future business opportunities. It is so obvious what they are up to. Some of these sites promote the page as a ” discussion group” but if you pose an opinion that is contrary to the majority, even in the most polite terms, you will find yourself banned from the group.
I see Memes all the time on farm pages and groups about buying local and supporting your local farmer and buying fresh meat and eggs from the small farmer, but then on the same pages I see farmers, male and female, touting why their animal is better than anyone else’s or their method of raising a beef steer makes for tastier beef than Joe’s down the street or why you shouldn’t buy Susie’s free-range chickens or eggs and how their dairy cows will make better homestead cows for you than the one raised by the other farmers because their cows are taken more seriously than the smaller farm’s cows or the newer farm’s cows or they have more experience or better stock, even when they have no stock to offer.
I can tell you that if you are looking for a registered animal with a superior pedigree it is absolutely imperative that you stick with the handful of farmers that are well established in the community with excellent reputations for providing that specific breed. Aside from those parameters, I will attest that you can find a perfect cow for your homestead at a good value from a small farmer with nothing more than a calf from her personal milk cow to offer; in fact, sometimes that’s going to turn out to be the better cow.
I recommend my farm friends all the time; even when I have the same type of livestock available if the buyer is looking for something in an animal I cannot offer.
Let’s be frank, if you buy an animal from me, you’re likely not getting just a production animal, you’re probably getting a pet. Some folks simply do not want an attention seeking cow on their homestead. Honestly, some people when first starting with bovines are a little afraid of close contact with them unless necessary for milking or feeding, etc. That is understandable. Cows are big ! They can hurt you ! I have the incorrectly healed broken toes to prove that they can step on you without even meaning to. They just don’t know where their ends are all the time.
If I have a buyer here and I do not have what they are looking for I always recommend an option for a reliable farmer I am familiar with who has an animal I know they would be more satisfied with. I never try to talk a person into buying from me when I know it is not the correct fit just to make a sale. The farm friends and mentors I have would not either.
Criticism is rampant and seemingly contagious in the farming community. Then, these same negative people will post a story about the closure of another small dairy or Mom & Pop’s grocery and shake their heads and say ” Tsk-tsk. So Sad.” The only way to increase the options for natural food sources is to support the people trying to offer it and stop trying to take them down out of fear they will take something off your plate. Work together. Stop promoting ourselves by trying to take out a perfectly lovely family farmer offering perfectly healthy livestock at a decent price because we are intimidated by the competition. Farming is hard. Farming is expensive. Getting started in farming and building a reputation as being reliable and trustworthy is brutal. Dealing with these challenges and also fending off social media attacks and rumors / gossip is not something the newcomer needs to have to contend with in a society and economy where many well established farms are throwing in the towel.
We small farmers and homesteaders are in a struggle to create a movement away from large corporate farming and into self-reliance and community involved sourcing. We should be reaching out to our fellow farmers and homesteaders, recommending the roadside produce stands and farm fresh eggs down the road, not criticizing how they train their dairy cows or what kind of manure they use on their tomatoes. If their cows walk into the stanchion and don’t kick the milk bucket does it really matter how they trained them to go in ? If their tomatoes are vine ripened and at the peak of freshness does it matter if they used chicken manure or cow manure? If the cow you are interested in has a pleasant attitude and is healthy it doesn’t matter if she was only talked to across the fence or was sung to in the pasture every day and twice on Sunday.